APS News

Texas Physics Consortium Moves Ahead Slowly

Last December, APS News reported that, in an effort to save physics programs at several universities in Texas, schools were banding together to participate in an electronic consortium of physics classes. Since then, the consortium has been beset by delays, but is still on track to reach its goal of preventing the termination of physics degree programs across the Lone Star State.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) last year did an assessment of the state’s 24 public universities and started to eliminate programs that graduated fewer than an average of five students per year. Six schools lost their physics programs, but three of them moved to join the Texas Electronic Coalition for Physics, a consortium with the capability of teaching physics classes remotely. The organizers hoped that by pooling several schools into a single degree program they could surpass the five graduates a year minimum. That way, students could continue to attend physics classes at their local universities, even if individually the school fails to meet minimum graduating requirements. How the institution or institutions will be listed on the diploma awarded is currently being worked out.

The program is still moving forward, but has hit several bumps in the road. Such a program has never been tried before in Texas, so confusion over paperwork has slowed the process. Because Tarleton State University, the school hosting the program, was one of the schools that lost its physics degree, the consortium had to start the application process from scratch, as if they were applying for a completely new degree program. Physics professors seeking to join the coalition, now dubbed the Texas Physics Consortium, say they are continuing to move forward with the applications, but the lengthy paperwork application had to be restarted, and the Board of Regents at each of the three schools has to approve it before it can go to the THECB for final approval, now expected sometime in the fall.

Dan Marble, a professor at Tarleton State who has been working to set up the consortium, said that they’ve been “mired in bureaucratic paperwork,” but added “I think we’re almost through all of that.”

The delays shouldn’t affect students currently enrolled in classes at any of the schools in the coalition.

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Editor: Alan Chodos